Spirits of a virtual world

The 48th National Book Fair and 18th Bangkok International Book Fair transform into an online city where people can confidently locate and buy the latest titles

Although the Covid-19 outbreak has forced people to hunker down and stick to their home isolation protocol as encouraged by the government, apparently it cannot prevent them from accessing knowledge.

Realising the importance of self-isolation during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic while responding to people's love for reading, organisers of one of Thailand's long-standing book fairs have decided to transform the 48th National Book Fair and 18th Bangkok International Book Fair into an online shopping platform, meaning the physical fair that was supposed to take place at Impact Arena Muang Thong Thani until April 5 has moved completely online.

Surprisingly, feedback has been really good since the first day of the event with great support from readers everywhere, even a little too good.

"Our [ThaiBookFair.com] website crashed due to the large amount of people trying to shop online on the first day. The site was down in the first couple of hours, but of course, now it's all been fixed," said Chonrungsri Chalermchaikit, president of the Publishers and Booksellers Association of Thailand (Pubat).

"There have been a few hiccups in the process as this is our first time organising the fair entirely digitally, but it's good to know that readers still believe books are essential to life."

Chonrungsri Chalermchaikit, president of the Publishers and Booksellers Association of Thailand. (Photos courtesy of PUBAT)

Chonrungsri said that the publishing industry -- like many other sectors -- is facing a slowdown due to an economic downturn caused by the pandemic. But with a strong commitment to promote reading, Pubat is overcoming these challenges through the implementation of a new strategy.

"Due to the ongoing situation, Pubat and our alliances from both public and private sectors see that social responsibility is the priority. It is understood that a book fair is a gathering place for a large number of people where book lovers would have conversations with sellers and publishers, and they would pick up, read or search for their favourite books. So in order to avoid all risks, on Feb 29, we announced the decision to organise the event via an online platform for the first time in history," Chonrungsri said.

Under the theme "Nang Sue Din Dai" (Books Are Flexible), the 48th National Book Fair has turned the event into a so-called Book City, with more than 200 bookstores and publishers joining this online event with special promotions packed over 12 days. Book lovers will be able to buy books online around the clock.

Via the official website, ThaiBookFair.com, visitors will enter an online book city with a 3D map that will lead them to different sections, including the main book fair section or links to alliance platforms such as Lazada, Shopee and Thailand Bestbuys, to name a few. Visitors can simply select their favourite books and put them into a virtual shopping cart. The system will calculate a total amount for payment while selected books from different publishers will be delivered to the customer by that company. While the joy of browsing and chatting with fellow bibliophiles may be missing, Chonrungsri believes book lovers will be able to access their favourite books in various genres even faster and more efficiently online.

"From our homepage, you'll find many different sections of books to choose from. The experience should be much more convenient than the on-the-ground fair," she said.

"You can also search by genre or book title, and it'll lead you straight to the room with different sellers who have the same book. Or if you already have favourite publishers, you can buy books at their store directly by browsing our list of publishers."

Furthermore, readers can enjoy exclusive deals and special promotions. Pubat will be giving away discount vouchers, a total of 125,000 baht every day throughout the 12-day event, worth 1.5 million baht in total. Book lovers will get free delivery nationwide on orders over 600 baht with each publisher. There also are special offers from leading online platforms. Lazada will be giving away discount coupons worth 2 million baht in total, and Shopee will be offering discount coupons worth 200,000 baht in total. The fair also joins hands with Kerry Express to offer a special deal for delivery services.

"This joint effort underscores our commitment that the online format will be a suitable choice amid the outbreak and for the safety of all readers," said Chonrungsri. "And for those who are not familiar with online shopping, we will be giving an easy instruction manual in video and infographic formats. Also, there will be a central chatline on which Pubat staff will be providing guidelines for visitors."

Visitors will get to enjoy a series of live streaming activities and exhibitions every Friday to Sunday, from 2pm to 8pm, including book launches, talks by authors, including those whose works become popular drama series, and workshops. There are online exhibitions of the Pan Wan Fah Award 2020, and Nang Sue Mee Cheevit. These live streaming events will be available at ThaiBookFair.com, Facebook: Book Thai and YouTube: Pubat. Visitors will also find interesting online video clips from different publishers.

The book fair's website also can serve as a tool for parents to teach their children how to responsibly access information online.

"Fake news is designed to advance a personal agenda. This is especially true during times of social tension when tempers are running high. We probably can't stop people from creating it, but we can teach ourselves how to access knowledge responsibly," said Chonrungsri.

"We can teach children how to read carefully and understand information deeply enough to be able to question when they come across inaccurate information. If you can learn how to exercise discernment and don't take the emotional bait, so the story you share or opinion you express will be based on accurate information."

The 48th National Book Fair and 18th Bangkok International Book Fair takes place online at ThaiBookFair.com until Sunday.